Talkin’ ’bout my generation

It has been a while since my last post, but there will be no updates here.  I have been moved from my blogging slumber by two recent posts – one at Pedablogy and the other at Loaded Learning – concerning “my” generation.  I’m not sure I want to defend my generation from what I think are undue conclusions as I want to remind previous generations that they, too, are and were quite imperfect, and that in some ways those imperfections are far more insidious than our own (I hope you’ll pardon my tone, but I suppose you might say I feel a bit offended). 

Because really, inter-generational comparisons are little more than nostalgic, romanticized versions of what it was like “back in the day.”  By Steve’s reckoning,

My generation believes that if we work hard, learn much, and save, we will be economically successful. And we largely have been, as illustrated by the wealth of the baby boomers.

The younger generation seems to believe that they will be economically successful, whether or not they work hard, learn or save. And as a consequence, they don’t seem to be doing those critical activities very much.

Let’s take the first quote.  “My generation” includes a lot of people.  The sentence implies that if one (in Steve’s day) fails to meet one of three conditions (work hard, learn much, save), then one will not be economically successful.  To this I would add the conditions “white” and “male,” since by and large the older generation was far more prone to reinforce race and gender inequalities that prevented most minorities from really experiencing any great deal of success.  Women, of course, are more successful now, but largely as a result of their own work in the 1970’s and 80’s.  Blacks, I suppose, are not being lynched anymore, and they managed to get themselves the rights promised them decades prior, and we can agree that’s a good thing. Of course, when they were being lynched and denied the right to vote, it was by people who espoused the work hard/learn much/save more mantra of the baby boomers and their parents.  Point being, my parents generation was successful conditional upon being born with a particular color of skin and structure of genitalia, and probably a number of other things besides work ethic and education.

With respect to the second quote, I simply don’t agree.  Yes, as students only one or two years out of high school, we are certainly spoiled and unaware of the world around us.  But worry not, we will soon be thrust into reality and become painfully aware of what it will require of us.  For those members of my generation who didn’t go to college, I  seriously doubt that they think they will be successful regardless of how hard they work, how much they learn, or how much they save; rather, they probably think that they will only be successful if they do those three things, or that they will never be successful regardless of whether or not they fulfill those three qualities.  The black members of my generation, especially those in college, are probably thinking “even if I do work hard, learn much, and save, it might not matter; but I’m going to do it anyway.”  Of course, then there are those single mothers in my generation who have no hope because society has abandoned them (a society, by the way, run not by my generation, but by my parents’ generation). 

So my point is twofold.  First, making generalizations about generations is a bad idea, no matter how it is caveatted.  Talk about spoiled white middle class college students all you want (I know I do), but that’s where such commentary should end.  Second, if you don’t like what you see in the world around you or what it portends for the future, and if you’re a baby boomer, then for the love of God please understand that you are the one with the power to change it.  Your generation runs everything.  If you don’t like what you see, then change it.  My generation may be young and passionate and idealistic, but we don’t have the power – yours does.  It is your divisions that you think are sending this country straight to hell. It is your fear and your hate and your arguments that perpetuate war, and inequality, and apathy.  You run everything, or at least some of you do, and you’re the ones who are teaching us how to run it. 

So if you promise to try and fix it, I will be at your side.  But don’t blame me and my friends and peers.  It’s not our fault…

…at least, not yet.

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2 Responses to “Talkin’ ’bout my generation”

  1. Billy Swanson Says:

    I like your reasoning Isaac.

    how you been?

  2. Charlotte Says:

    Well, I’ve had this little piece of paper with this address on it for months and I was looking for a break from the pile of other pieces of paper on my desk and all that they entailed. So I put the address in and lo and behold, it’s Isaac. And not just Isaac, but Isaac on a bit of a rampage . . . which is just as refreshing as I hoped it would be. The issue of disenfranchisement interests me greatly right now because that’s a state–an emotion–that I am suffering from greatly. I attended college between 1970 and 1974. (Yes, I am even older than Steve, for godsakes.) I sat at the Impeach Nixon table every day for months. I went to the Quaker peace vigils and silently held my candle. I campaigned for George McGovern. I did all the fashionable things that a young woman at Chapel Hill with Botticelli hair, handcrafted sandals, and Indian-print dresses was apt to do. But I never felt the true sting of disenfranchisement until the last few years, when I could see my country heading down the Viet Nam path again and there wasn’t a thing I could do. When my president sat Pharoah-like in the White House and hardened his heart to all that people like me had to say. I had a brief few weeks of optimism earlier in the Democratic primary process. I thought Barack Obama really heard me and I still think he does. But I can see the machine cranking up now to head for the back room and do what they think is “good” for the people now matter what they people want.

    I know the issue at hand is economic success. But–beyond making sure the roof doesn’t leak and the kids are fed–I think inherent in some of you post is the idea that a benefit of prosperity is empowerment. And well-fed, warm-and-dry, older White woman that I am, I am sad to to say at this moment in our history, I don’t feel at all empowered. I feel stifled and, yes, disenfranchised. I don’t think it would be different if I were a white male either. Not unless my name were Cheney.

    So perhaps it comes down to something more subtle or complicated or insidious than–dare I say it you and to Steve?–economics. I would love to engage with you further about what.

    “[I]f you’re a baby boomer, then for the love of God please understand that you are the one with the power to change it. Your generation runs everything.” So maybe this isn’t exactly true.

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